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The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World Paperback – January 5, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Fortified with Eeyoreish fatalism—I'm already unhappy. I have nothing to lose—Weiner set out on a yearlong quest to find the world's unheralded happy places. Having worked for years as an NPR foreign correspondent, he'd gone to many obscure spots, but usually to report bad news or terrible tragedies. Now he'd travel to countries like Iceland, Bhutan, Qatar, Holland, Switzerland, Thailand and India to try to figure out why residents tell positive psychology researchers that they're actually quite happy. At his first stop, Rotterdam's World Database of Happiness, Weiner is confronted with a few inconvenient truths. Contrary to expectations, neither greater social equality nor greater cultural diversity is associated with greater happiness. Iceland and Denmark are very homogeneous, but very happy; Qatar is extremely wealthy, but Weiner, at least, found it rather depressing. He wasn't too fond of the Swiss, either, uncomfortable with their quiet satisfaction, tinged with just a trace of smugness. In the end, he realized happiness isn't about economics or geography. Maybe it's not even personal so much as relational. In the end, Weiner's travel tales—eating rotten shark meat in Iceland, smoking hashish in Rotterdam, trying to meditate at an Indian ashram—provide great happiness for his readers.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Bookmarks Magazine
If theres one truth that emerged from reviewers various takes on The Geography of Bliss, its that happiness is subjective. Every critic seemed to find something that really irked him or her about this book: Weiners persona seems affected, he indulges in "psychobabble," he remains aloof about himself, he comes across as an obnoxious reporter. Yet everyone seemed to enjoy his book, admiring Weiners original approach to the subject, his balance of research and experience, and the characters that illustrate the lessons on happiness Weiner accumulates during his journeys. In short, all the critics happiness was alike, but they were also all unhappy in their own way. (Sorry, Tolstoy.) FYI: Weiner lives in Miami, Florida.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Weiner's quest here is to find a place and conditions that might cheer him up. He apparently considers only slightly the fact that any place he goes, he takes his unhappy self with him. The sub-title, One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World, sets the stage.
Can the conditions of place cause or at least contribute to happiness? My personal experience and letters from readers says yes. I confined my search to the contiguous 48 states; travelholic Weiner takes us to nine more countries.
First to The Netherlands and the World Database of Happiness to learn what Ruut Veenhoven, "the godfather of happiness research" knows. On to Switzerland, where the natives feel more than contentment but less than joy. Thence to Bhutan, where the king has proclaimed Gross National Happiness; Qatar, where each new husband gets a $7,000 monthly allowance, a building lot and a no-interest home loan; Iceland, where we learn that colder is happier; Moldova, "the least happy nation on the planet" according to Veenhoven's data; Thailand, where keeping the long view of life creates much joking and laughter; Great Britain, where culture hinders happiness; India, a destination happy place; and then back home to Miami, where all that sunshine leaves our author cold.
We learn that money wealth gives but a small edge. America is the richest country the world has ever known, yet our self-help bookshelves sag. As poet-laureate, Charles Simic, noted in a recent interview: "It's an industry. It's really frightening. People need to read a book on how to be happy? It's completely an American thing."
Lucky for we readers, Weiner (pronounced whiner, poor guy) has a happy sense of humor that has survived the negative focus of journalism. The Geography of Bliss is a fun read, a lively travelogue of ideas, a mind tickler, a book that fulfills its purpose.
What I take from this entertaining tome is that a myriad of factors contribute to happiness: society, culture, community, biophilia, relationships, belonging, trust, openness, creativity, action, flexibility, unpredictability, altruism, a healthy balance of comparative feelings, hedonism, but not too much, and money, but just a bit. And, yes, place--if it allows these things.
On my writing studio wall is a framed piece of calligraphy that sums it up for me. It reads: "The grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, someone to love and something to hope for." (Joseph Addison--1672-1719)
Don't believe the 'Grump' part in the sub-title. No grumpy misanthrope would get out and meet such a surprising range of people the way Weiner does in these experiences. Despite the self-described grumpy persona, Weiner clearly likes people. That's important because - as he points out in the book's epilogue - one of his chief takeaways (culled from his Bhutan experience) is that happiness is 'relational,' not personal. It doesn't spring organically from within: it comes instead from your interaction with, support of, and acceptance by other people.
Another misleading part of the subtitle: "Search for the Happiest Places" would lead you to believe that Weiner went only to countries ranked high on Ruut Veenhoven's World Database of Happiness (the intriguing source that birthed Weiner's mission quest). Instead, he goes to some countries for contrast: UK, India and - most notably - Moldova, regarded by some as the world's _least_ happy country.
Those passages about Moldova reminded me of Tony Hawks' sublime work, Playing the Moldovans at Tennis. It's a book that might seem jokey and lighthearted from its premise, but you'll be in for a surprise when emotion catches up to you in the end. It's one of my favorite all-time books.